Bordeaux is so strongly associated with wine that we sometimes forget it is a beautiful, exciting, multicultural city as well as a wine region. Queen Elizabeth II described it as “the very essence of elegance”. In order to put the finishing touches to Black Widow – Book 9 in the Beatrice Stubbs series – I travelled to the Bordeaux to explore its architecture, its cuisine, its markets and of course, its wine.
Vieux Bordeaux (Old Bordeaux) is a UNESCO protected area of 1,810 hectares, comprising some jaw-dropping buildings. It used to be known as “sleeping beauty” because pollution turned all the walls black. Many archways or gateways, part of the old city walls, have been restored to their former glory.
Starting at Porte de Bourgogne, walk down to the wide Garonne river, to see its fast-moving, cappuccino-coloured waters from the Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge). The clay sediment on the river bed mingling with the incoming currents of seawater makes the water look murky, but it is in fact one of the cleanest in Europe.
On both banks, there are wide promenades alongside the river, with space for walkers, joggers, cyclists and all kinds of electric scooters. Just a short stroll up river and you come upon the Place de la Bourse, built for Louis XV. This 18th century square boasts a fountain and water mirror. Tiny water features across the expanse release small trickles of water or steam, to keep the surface wet and reflective, to great effect.
The UNESCO trail takes you past most of the key landmarks informing you all about the city’s impressive past. But what of its present? One of the features I most enjoyed were the markets. Marché des Capucins has a wonderful selection of fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and cheeses with cheerful vendors proud of their wares.
Place Meynard, next to the Gothic Basilica St-Michel, also has a daily food market and a flea market on Sunday mornings. You can buy anything from farm equipment to a sieve-on-a-stick (don’t ask me).
Then of course, there are the pâtisseries, with rows of macaroons, éclairs and delicious fancies. Even better, you can try before you buy. That was a fondant I will not forget.
As for dining, there is so much to choose from. Classic French dishes such as roasted Camembert, mussels in white wine and savoury or sweet crêpes are available right next door to Italian pizzerias, Spanish tapas bars and Vietnamese or Moroccan restaurants. Bordeaux has something for everyone. Next time, the City of Wine!